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Now that I’m retired, I’m earning some part-time income in America by substitute teaching. I’ve also, thanks to a gracious and dedicated teacher friend in Paix Bouche, I’ve also had the pleasure of teaching a science lesson in her class in government school some years ago. I taught about maple syrup (we can get sugar from trees here in New England), and sweetened the lesson on our subsequent visit to Dominica by bringing a box of maple sugar candy for the children in the class.

What I’m writing about, though, is the chasm between Dominica’s government schools and the equivalent US public schools. In Dominica the children are orderly and respectful toward their teachers as well they should be, because the teachers are dedicated and hard-working. In American public schools orderly children and dedicated teachers are the exception rather than the rule. (I believe that our daughter, a high school teacher to disadvantaged children – some of them Dominicans – in the Bronx NY is one of those rare exceptions, by the way. If you have a friend or relative in the USA who knows or attends Harry S Truman HS ask that person about Miss Tanner.)

Good classroom order, respect for the teacher, and attentiveness are fundamental to building an education, the foundation for mounting the heights of opportunity. But economics matter too.

In fact, it is the rich/poor USA/Dominica disparity that comes to my mind because of an experience that I had with American 7th-graders today, in a school in a well-off suburban district. I was substituting for a social studies teacher.

The school, though not new, would be considered luxurious by Dominican standards. And its panoply of equipment and supplies would never be found in Dominica. Every classroom had at least one computer with high-speed Internet access. The school provides the students with outstanding hard-bound new-edition textbooks. There are copiers located around the school so that teachers can produce additional assignment handouts, and boxes of consumables such as paper, colored pencils, tape, glue, etc. all free to students.

But the teacher that I was substituting for clearly did little to nothing on her own — her copier does more than she does. And the students think that colored pencils are for throwing, breaking, and leaving on the floor.

I had six classes today. Four of them were the more manageable children, and I was able to bring them to order and direct them to their lesson — coloring and labeling a map of ancient Mesopotamia — on my own.

Two classes had hard to manage kids, and I had a teacher’s aide — a lovely, underpaid, dedicated woman from India — in the class to help me. She and I spoke about how grateful she as a girl and the teachers she’d known would have been to have had access to the material abundance in the classroom, and I related to her that present-day pupils and teachers in Dominica’s government schools would have fully agreed.

Every time we visit Dominica we bring some educational materials, and our daughter has helped us with the endeavor. I’m pretty well educated and I definitely plan to offer my services as a education volunteer when we settle in Dominica — partly because we know the offer will be truly appreciated and well-received.

There are so many great, inquisitive, bright little minds in Dominica. I’ll be happy if I can help some of the children reach their dreams and better their lives.

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